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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Doxorubicin (Adriamycin®, Rubex®)


Brand Names: Adriamycin®, Adriamycin RDF, Rubex®, Adriamycin PFS

Doxorubicin, also known as doxorubicin hydrochloride, is used in the treatment of numerous cancers. The types of cancer that doxorubicin may be used to treat include breast, ovarian, bladder, lung, thyroid, and stomach cancers, soft tissue and osteogenic sarcomas, neuroblastoma, Wilms’ tumor, lymphoma, some acute leukemias, and Kaposi’s sarcoma. Less commonly, this drug may also be used to treat Ewing’s tumor; squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck, cervix, and vagina; carcinomas of the testes, prostate, and uterus; and refractory multiple myeloma.

Doxorubicin is an antibiotic that is used only in the treatment of certain cancers. Specifically, this drug belongs to a class of medications called anthracycline antibiotics, and is made from a natural product produced by the soil fungus Streptomyces. Doxorubicin damages DNA, and may slow or stop cancer cells.

This drug is given as an injection into a vein (intravenous). Each injection usually takes several minutes. The duration of treatment depends on what other drugs you are taking, the type of cancer being treated, and how well your body is tolerating the medication. Doxorubicin may sometimes be given as a continuous infusion. With this method, the drug is still injected into a vein, but at a slower pace, with each injection taking longer. Your doctor will recommend the dosage and schedule that is appropriate for you.

Doxorubicin side effects

To prevent problematic interactions between doxorubicin and other drugs, be sure to tell your doctor if you are allergic to any medications, and what other medications and supplements you are currently taking. You should also inform your doctor if you have or ever had a liver tumor, liver disease, or kidney disease, if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, or if you are breastfeeding. Patients being treated with doxorubicin should check with their doctor before having any vaccinations, such as the flu shot.

Possible side effects may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting that may last 24–48 hours after treatment
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Thinned or brittle hair
  • Skin irritation or rash on areas previously exposed to radiation treatments
  • Darkening of fingernails or toenails
  • Swelling, pain, redness, or peeling of skin on palms and soles of feet

Some of doxorubicin’s side effects can be serious. Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Mouth blistering
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising
  • Red urine or sweat
  • Pain where the drug was injected
  • Persistent diarrhea or other bowel changes that last for more than 2 days
  • Sore throat, fever, chills or other signs of infection
  • Breathing discomfort

Please note that this is not a comprehensive list. Patients may experience additional effects not mentioned above.

At Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), your team of cancer experts will explain each of the side effects of doxorubicin with you in detail, as well as the side effects and expectations of all other medications planned as part of your individualized treatment plan.

Doxorubicin for cancer treatment

Doxorubicin is approved by the FDA for the following cancer treatments:

  • For the treatment of ovarian cancer that has worsened after platinum-based chemotherapy
  • For the treatment of AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma that has worsened after previous systemic chemotherapy, or for patients unable to tolerate systemic chemotherapy
  • In combination with bortezomib in patients with multiple myeloma who have not previously received bortezomib but who have received at least one other previous therapy
  • Alone or in combination with other drugs to treat breast cancer, or as an adjuvant (postsurgical) therapy for breast cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes
  • Alone or in combination for:
    • Stomach cancer
    • Hodgkin lymphoma
    • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
    • Neuroblastoma
    • Small-cell lung cancer
    • Soft tissue and bone sarcomas
    • Thyroid cancer
    • Transitional cell bladder cancer
    • Wilms tumor

At CTCA, our integrative approach to cancer treatment works to fight your disease on all fronts and ensures that you remain at the center of everything we do. We encourage participation from both you and your family to make certain you are comfortable with all decisions made regarding your treatment.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only. In no way should it be considered as offering medical advice. Cancer Treatment Centers of America assumes no responsibility for how this material is used. Please check with a physician if you suspect you are ill. Also note that while Cancer Treatment Centers of America frequently updates its contents, medical information changes rapidly. Therefore, some information may be out of date.